Solar technologies make it possible to use the energy emanating from the Sun in the form of light and heat. Although criticized for being inefficient and expensive to get into, things have changed for the better in recent years. More and more private and business establishments and even vehicles rely solely or in some percentage, on solar power to provide electricity, light, and heat, on or off-grid. The newer solar panels also no longer stick out like a sore thumb, which eliminated the main complaint – their ugliness. With that said, let’s dive straight into the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy.
Advantages of solar energy
The following are some of the pros of solar energy:
1. Renewable source of energy
Solar power is inexhaustible, like power generated from the wind or moving bodies of water. In other words, unlike conventional finite power sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear, it will take 5 billion years, the time researchers estimate the Sun will die, for us to lose solar energy.
2. Low electricity bills
Because you’ll switch from a typical power source you’re currently using, your energy bills will shrink. The percentage depends entirely on your location, the size and number of the solar panels, and your electricity and heat usage needs. With enough panels and battery storage, you can rely entirely on the power from the Sun.
3. Long lifespan
Present solar panels are designed to perform optimally for between 25 and 30 years. However, they can work for decades afterward, albeit with reduced performance. What’s more, some manufacturers provide a warranty for the lifetime of the product. This means you’re safe from unpredictable events that affect your solar power system. Finally, solar panels are usually automatically included in your homeowner insurance policy as “permanent attachment”, like patios or security systems.
4. Low maintenance
Solar panels have no moving parts, which means they aren’t prone to wear and tear. The primary source of potential damage (and reduced performance) comes from dirt and debris. Therefore, thoroughly cleaning them a few times per year will keep them operating optimally. The only part of the solar power system that might need replacing after 5 to 10 years is the invertor. After all, it continuously converts solar energy into heat or electricity.
5. Grid independent
To supply a remote home with run-of-the-mill electricity, you must pay the company to lay down the cables to your location, then install wiring inside your building. This takes a lot of time and requires logistics and bureaucracy. Afterward, you’re on the hook for all kinds of fees, surcharges, and taxes. A solar system can be installed quickly, at any location with access to sunlight, completely off-the-grid. You also avoid tapping into a finite, and thus volatile energy market. Obviously, the Sun will never increase its rates.
6. Finding use for vacant land
We discussed how agriculture technology finds a better use for the underutilized land. Well, solar technology is no different. Instead of on individual homes, residents of any type of inhabited place (or multiple places) can opt to build solar farms. Those are essentially hundreds of solar panels stacked next to each other, often capable of rotating to follow the Sun. A great example is the Bhadla Solar Park, India. It uses 14,000 acres of farmland to produce up to 2,245 MW of power.
7. Plenty of incentives
Another positive aspect of solar power are the incentives to use it:
- Government benefits: Down payment funding, subsidized loans, tax credits, tax write-offs, cash rebates, etc.
- Solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs): Any extra solar energy you produce can be sold back to the solar grid. This provides extra income and a better ROI (Return on Investment) for an upfront solar power system price.
- Performance-based incentives (PBIs): Earn credits for every kilowatt-hour of electricity you produce and sell to the grid. Better yet, sell extra power to an open market.
- Environmental impact: We already analyzed how technology can save the environment.
Disadvantages of solar energy
These are a few cons of solar energy:
1. Installation is costly
The first drawback of solar technology is that it’s an investment. You have to pay the price of the entire system, plus the installation, in advance. And while the average solar system cost is $12,000-$20,000, the price of Tier 1 solar panels can climb to $40,000. Luckily, the price has been on the decline in recent years.
2. Climate and weather dependent
Locations without sufficient exposure to sun rays won’t reap the benefits of solar panels as much as those with year-round sunlight and heat. And, although solar panels are better at collecting energy during cloudy and rainy days nowadays, the performance loss is inescapable. Finally, solar energy cannot be collected at night.
3. Requires a lot of space
Are your electricity and heat needs increasing or are already high? Don’t be shocked when you discover your roof is too small to fit the required number of solar panels. There are some solutions though. One is mounting solar panels in the yard, on a static or moving frame. Scientists have also created solar glass – a transparent solar panel that can replace regular windows, skylights, or glass doors.
4. Solar energy storage isn’t worth it (yet)
The longevity and price of batteries that store converted solar energy are still far from ideal. Therefore, users must settle for minimal battery capacity to reduce the upfront cost. Alternatively, they remain connected to the standard electrical grid. Most of their energy consumption is fulfilled by solar power during the day, so the electricity bills remain low, but not zero.
5. Not pollution-free
There’s no question solar power reduces pollution compared to traditional energy sources. However, solar photovoltaic systems still contain or release dangerous or toxic products and materials during manufacturing. Most notable are cadmium compounds, lead, hexafluoroethane, and silicon tetrachloride.
6. Can’t match the conventional power output (yet)
It’s not a coincidence the solar farm we mentioned above spans across 14,000 acres. We pointed out solar panels are still huge; imagine thousands upon thousands lined up next to each other. Long story short, solar power stations cannot match the power output of run-of-the-mill power stations of equivalent size.